Madison Clayton, Friendswood Junior High seventh-grader, could feel her heart pounding in her chest and tingling in her toes as she stood on the edge of a platform in the middle of a rainforest. Facing away from the zip-line, Clayton was forced to decide: would she jump blindly or would she keep her feet on the ground?
Clayton traveled to Costa Rica last summer as a part of the Coastal Class Spanish Emersion Adventure offered through FISD. She was there as a way to take Spanish classes, complete a conservation project and have the experience of a lifetime.
Besides being able to have fun riding ATVs, going horseback riding, parasailing and dolphin watching (to name a few activities), Clayton and her peers were able to completely immerse themselves in another country’s culture while learning how to speak Spanish.
“I probably learned just as much in the two weeks I was there as I’ll learn this whole year,” Clayton said. “When you’re there, there isn’t an option to speak English, so you learn really fast.”
That is the main goal of the trip according to Tierni Sager, FJH teacher, who has been taking students on these adventures for the past 18 years.
“It’s all about learning Spanish. One week, we go to the rainforest. The next week, we go to the city,” Sager said. “The students are really immersed in the culture when they go into the city because they live with a host family who doesn’t speak English at all.”
Clayton said it was difficult for the first few days, but she eventually picked up quite a bit of the language.
“With the host family, we have to speak Spanish. The first couple of days we were there, it was hard because I didn’t really know any Spanish, so we used a lot of hand signals,” she laughed. “You definitely pick up a lot more there when you’re forced to speak the language versus being in a classroom for an hour.”
However, Sager said each student gets out of the experience what they put into it.
“Madison embraced the whole experience and she wasn’t frightened. She always helped, had great suggestions and she was always game to do anything,” Sager said. “She’s one of the exceptional kids I’ve had who really took it to heart in understanding 65 percent of the people in Texas speak Spanish.”
Clayton said she feels passionate about learning to speak the language and that is why she decided to go on the trip.
“I want to be able to speak Spanish fluently. I’m definitely going to take it through high school,” Clayton said. “There was a girl named Carson who had gone [on the trip] three years in a row and she speaks almost fluently. She’s definitely a role model for me.”
According to Clayton, her goal to speak Spanish fluently stems from her desire to connect with people from different cultures.
“The more languages you know, the more you can talk to people and experience people,” she said. “I hope someday I get to go on a mission trip with my church, and if we were to go to a Spanish-speaking country, it would be amazing to be able to talk to them. In everyday things, there are people who can speak Spanish, but not English, so it’s very useful everywhere to be bilingual.”
Clayton emphasized how important she believes it is for people to take advantage of the opportunities they are given.
“Not everyone has the opportunity to learn English, so if I have the opportunity to learn another language and be able to still connect with them, then I would want to do that,” she said.
Not only did Clayton’s experience expand her understanding of Spanish, but it also expanded her understanding of how fortunate she is to live the life she lives.
“In Costa Rica, they don’t have everything we do,” Clayton said. “They’re not able to go to Jumping World or go to the mall every day or things like that, and it’s really interesting to see how other people live. It makes you really thankful for what you have and how special that is.”
Though the trip was first a bit frightening, Clayton said she is very happy she went and cannot wait to return this upcoming summer. She said making the decision to go was a lot like standing on the edge of the platform: she was not sure what would happen, but with a little faith and courage, she jumped, and by taking that leap, she had a truly beautiful experience.